Herbold: 2020 Budget rebalancing deliberations; No call for SW Precinct closure
District 1 Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold clarified her position on recent budget rebalancing in her letter to constituents:
There has been a lot reported in the media recently about the 2020 budget rebalancing deliberations as it relates specifically to the SPD budget. Unfortunately, some of which has been reported doesn’t reflect my, or the Council’s, efforts. I’d like to set the record straight regarding my position on the Seattle Police Department’s budget.
The first thing I want to address is the Southwest Precinct. No one on the Council, to my knowledge, is proposing to cut the Southwest Precinct. It’s disappointing that Chief Best is proposing to do so in advance of any Council proposals. Furthermore, if there ever was an effort to close the Southwest Precinct, as the Councilmember for District 1, I would unequivocally fight that effort. The Southwest Precinct is needed more now than ever before with the closure of the West Seattle Bridge. Finally, while under the Charter, it is wholly under the purview of the Police Chief to decide how to deploy officers, the Charter also states that “there shall be maintained adequate police protection in each district of the City.” The Council can, within the City Budget, ensure that there is a “Budget Control Level” for each precinct, and it is the Council that has budget authority for the funding for each Budget Control Level or the spending for each precinct.
It has also been recently reported that the Chief says that she will need to reduce patrol staff to 630 employees – this prognostication from the Chief about an unknown future Council action seems designed to delay an important conversation about policing in Seattle and this Country.
Specifically, Chief Best has stated that we would lose more than 50% of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) officers due to typical layoff procedures which would require firings in reverse order of seniority. This system of layoffs is based upon institutional racism and speaks only to what we cannot do, not to what we must do. Now is the time to ask ourselves what we can do and how we can change a system badly in need of reforms. The Chief isempowered, under Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to request authority to implement layoffs in a way that is called “out of order.” This means the Chief does not have to fire the newest hired and more diverse officers first. She can request the PSCSC Executive Director for permission to lay off out of order when doing so is in “the interest of efficient operations of his or her department.” The Chief is making the argument to the public that firing BIPOC members of the SPD would be harmful, I agree and I know that the Chief can argue just as convincingly that maintaining the employment of BIPOC officers is in the interest of efficient operations of the SPD. Specifically, the Chief should be arguing to remove those officers with the most number of disciplinary complaints first, regardless of their seniority. Contrast Chief Best’s support for SPOG’s status quo approach with that of Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo who last month broke with their police union in recognition that “it’s debilitating for a chief when an officer does something that calls for termination, but the union works to keep that person on the job.”
Finally, I want to address the size of our police force. A recent report by the Vera Institute of Justice titled What Policing Costs compiled data from fiscal year 2020 adopted budgets from 72 of the largest cities in the US. There are two data points I want to highlight:
- Seattle has one officer for every 340 residents, more officers per population than most West Coast cities. Under Public Safety Civil Service Commission rules we use seven comparative cities on the West Coast (Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose) as a benchmark for wages, hours, and conditions of employment. For instance, Portland has one officer for every 501 people, Sacramento, one officer for every 475 people, San Diego, one officer for every 537 people, and San Jose one officer for every 609 people.
- Seattle spends $546 per resident for police, the 11th highest rate among the 72 largest cities in the country, and more than 6 of the 7 comparable West Coast cities.
It is true that in the past I have been an ardent advocate for and supported the hiring of additional police officers, in an effort to “grow the size” of our police force. As a community organizer working in low-income communities of color in the ‘90’s, I worked to lift the voices of community members seeking a fair allocation of police resources to meet the public safety needs of those low income communities. As an aide to a Councilmember, I worked to pull residents across city precincts to advocate for hiring more officers citywide to ensure that public safety needs in one precinct were not addressed by “borrowing officers” from another, in a “rob Peter to pay Paul” situation and in 2006 we funded the first new positions to SPD since the 70’s. And then, as a Councilmember myself representing some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the City receiving slow and inadequate police response, I have supported an additional $110 million dollars of annual funding for SPD in my four years on the Council, increasing the budget from $300 million 2016 to $410 million in 2020.
Now I’m hearing loud and clear from many in community that more officers does not equal more public safety. And I am listening. I am reading, researching, and learning. This local effort, bolstered by the national dialogue about bloated police budgets in cities across the nation, without better public safety outcomes and ongoing racial disparity impacts to communities of color is causing me to reexamine my own assumptions about whether “growing the size of the SPD” will deliver better public safety outcomes.
I continue to support funding to address public safety. However, what has evolved in my position is that it should not be only the police addressing public safety concerns. Too often we ask the police to do too much and they are ill-equipped to handle these issues. Former Dallas Police Chief Brown noted in 2016, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it… Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops… That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
A review of 911 calls I requested in Seattle, to begin the process of identifying what work currently done by police officers might best be done by other types of professionals, found that in 2019 56% of dispatched calls were non-criminal.
It is past time that we work to solve these problems upstream, so that we don’t have to so heavily invest in a police force that’s unable to address all of the issues we’ve asked them to use policing in order to address. This why I support shifting funding away from SPD and into upstream programs – identified through community engagement – that are better situated to address the root concerns we have thus far failed to. In a 2016 report from the Obama White House’s Council of Economic Advisers found that “a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.” This is just one small example of how investing upstream will not only save money, but prevent crime from occurring in the first place.
The new Southwest Precinct Captain, Kevin Grossman, who was recently interviewed by the WS Blog said:
He’s hoping “the rhetoric calms down a bit” – he agrees that there’s an overreliance on 911 to solve our society’s problems, and acknowledges that police have traditionally ben asked to do a lot of things they shouldn’t do. “There’s room for a bigger conversation about what police should be doing, shouldn’t be doing.” but he hopes there’s room for a rational conversation, though he says 50 percent would be too big a cut – “a cut like that would be devastating and would seriously affect the level of service we would provide.” As for specific types of change, Grossman offered support for the CAHOOTS model. “That would take a lot of work away from us – that’s all right, but that’s not in place yet. … Would probably save the city a bunch of money and might turn out better than some of our calls.”
Even Captain Grossman agrees that we should be reexamining what we’re asking the police to do, and this means changing the level of service we expect from our police officers and shift some of those responsibilities to better equipped professionals that address these concerns upstream.
In support for Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now’s goal of reducing SPD spending by 50% and reallocating funds to community needs, I proposed a Council Budget Action (beginning on slide 32) in the July 15th Council Select Budget Committee with a range of options for cuts in the SPD budget, some of which, if approved by the Council, can be immediately reinvested in community-based alternatives to public safety issues. Cuts in this package, or any other that the Council approves, that have labor implications, would be available over time after negotiations with the police unions, just as required for cuts in personnel for any city staff.
Another important budget update is about my efforts in the 2020 Budget rebalancing process to support Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a nationally-replicated program developed here in Seattle that diverts individuals away from arrest and toward a community-based intervention program for low-level criminal offenses (such as drug possession, sales, and prostitution offenses). In Seattle, there are currently two ways to be referred to LEAD’s unique services:
- Referrals directly from law enforcement.
- Referrals - approved by law enforcement - from community sources and other agencies, such as the Seattle Fire Department, the Mobile Crisis Team, the Crisis Diversion Facility, the King County Prosecutor, the Seattle City Attorney, the King County Jail, the Department of Public Defense, Business Improvement Associations, other neighborhood groups and business groups, housing and health care providers.
Both pathways require the Seattle Police Department to play an active role in approving all referrals. Unfortunately, for the past weeks and months, law enforcement has not had the capacity to make or approve these referrals. As a result, LEAD’s scarce and desperately-needed resources, such as specialized case management and individual hotel rooms, have gone to waste – even though they are clearly and desperately needed.
I’m sponsoring a budget action, along with Councilmember Morales, that will remove SPD from that “gatekeeping” function it currently plays in LEAD, at the request of LEAD’s project managers and with the support of Police Chief Carmen Best. The proviso will create a “third pathway” for referrals from non-law enforcement sources, without requiring SPD to approve them. It would be one of several changes that LEAD has made recently to respond to the very changed environment in which they are operating – and the growing need for their work.
This new pathway will not change the positive, collaborative relationship LEAD has built with SPD officers over the years. It just removes them from the administrative hurdle at the start of a new referral. This Crosscut article goes into more depth on the need for this budget action.